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Washington Guard, business come together for Industry Day

Connecting Guardsmen with companies that benefit them

Brig. Gen. Jeremy Horn and Robin Thompson, Emergency Management Program Coordinator, WANG, talk with Steve O’ Donnell, CEO, American Preparedness, at the National Guard Association of Washington Industry Day. Photo credit: Capt. Joseph Siemandel

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Hundreds of Guardsmen got to see some of the best technology from some of the nation's leading defense industries Oct. 18 at the Pierce County Readiness Center. Industry Day, hosted by the National Guard Association of Washington, provides a unique opportunity for Washington National Guardsmen and the representatives of the defense sector to discuss the latest products, talk about what works and what doesn't work, and share stories.

It's on par with the renown national conference conducted by the National Guard Association of the United States, but not a lot of Guardsmen can break away to the big event.

"We do Industry Day to connect our partners with the soldiers and airmen that they support through the year; it is all about building relationships," said Chief Master Sgt. Jennie Bellarose, Senior Enlisted Leader, 194th Wing and NGAW President.

The next NGAW Industry Day will be held March 21, 2019, at the Pierce County Readiness Center.

The objective is simple, connecting Guardsmen with the companies that can benefit them directly.

"Three years ago, when we had Litefighter come out with their small single-man shelters that attach to cots, the Washington National Guard identified the value," said Bob Sweeney, NGAW Executive Director. "They came in handy during the wildfire season for those teams in remote areas."

Like Litefighter, when many companies come to the event every six-months to talk with Guardsmen, it's the first time soldiers and airmen have an opportunity to see the technology up close. For instance, there's DripDrop Inc. and its unique oral rehydration solution that has been used in many disaster relief situations around the world.

"Many states have events like this, but they don't always get the decision makers in the room," said Greg Sumerlin, Vice President of Government and Medical sales, DripDrop Inc. "We have had a very positive reaction from the Guardsmen here. They think we are a sports drink, but once they learn we are a medical device they want to learn more; we are excited to follow up in March."

But it isn't just the big companies that find value in the face-to-face interaction of Industry Day. Charlie Mike Engraving, a custom gift and awards company, is owned by Eileen Ryan and her spouse Lt. Col. Matt Cooper, a Washington National Guard member.

"Having a spouse in the Guard was an entry, and having connections in the Guard was a benefit," Eileen said. "We would get that initial rush of business from people we know, want custom glass wear and plaques, but Industry Day has given us that face-to-face with so many more Guardsmen."

Eileen said that social media has been a great tool to support her business, but nothing replaces the face-to-face interaction.

"We are a business that makes personal items, and it is that personal connection that helps businesses grow," she added.

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